Willie O'Ree's jersey retirement night sparks honours and tributes on social media

·4 min read
The entire sports world came together to honour Willie O'Ree, who broke the NHL's colour barrier in 1958. (Getty)
The entire sports world came together to honour Willie O'Ree, who broke the NHL's colour barrier in 1958. (Getty)

The loud support of Hockey Twitter showed just how important #Willie22 was for the sport.

Willie O’Ree received a long-overdue honour on Tuesday, as the Boston Bruins retired his jersey prior to their game versus the Carolina Hurricanes.

O’Ree is a pioneer of the game, as he became the first Black player to ever play in the NHL when he made his debut during the 1957-58 season — exactly on Jan. 18 of that year. Though the Canada native only appeared in two games during that stint, he suited up for another 43, once again with the Bruins, in 1960-61.

But the celebration wasn't limited to the handing of No. 22 from the rafters of TD Garden. On Tuesday, Boston mayor Michelle Wu also declared it Willie O'Ree Day in the city.

Unfortunately, O’Ree was unable to attend the game in person due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but did participate virtually. Both the Bruins and Hurricanes players, along with the entire crowd in Boston, gave O’Ree a long standing ovation as his banner was lifted to the rafters.

The sports world, in attendance or not, was quick to show its support and admiration through an outpouring of social-media posts.

Though he didn’t appear in the NHL after the 1960-61 season, O’Ree continued to play professional hockey until 1974, and then returned for one final season in 1978-79. The fact that he was able to become the first Black player to make his mark in the NHL is impressive enough, but his story is even more incredible, as he lost 95 percent of his vision in his right eye prior to his time spent with the Bruins.

The now-86-year-old has received many honours in recent years for his outstanding playing career, with the biggest coming in 2018 when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Though his NHL career was by no means the longest, it was and will forever be one of the most memorable to hockey fans all around the world — thanks to both his bravery and love of the game.

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